‘2 big sets, 2 big nights’
People’s troubadour Jonathan Richman delights again at Duffy’s
“We got 2 big sets, 2 big nights,” legendary pop musician Jonathan Richman told a standing-room crowd in his unmistakably thick Boston accent. “Not too modest, but it gets the point across.”
The always entertaining Richman was indeed back for two heartfelt nights in intimate Duffy’s Tavern, a favorite home club of sorts for the constantly touring “proto punk” and his stoic partner, standing drummer Tommy Larkins on the glittering cocktail kit. If you didn’t already know it, Richman married Chico native Nicole Montalbano (daughter of Duffy’s honcho Roger) not too long ago, and family members came out for Monday night’s gig to help celebrate Nicole’s 33rd birthday.
Although a bit disheveled, perhaps from recent road miles through the foggy Northwest, Richman was in great form this night—especially his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar playing, which ended almost every song with beautifully framed, fluttering arpeggios that left the final notes hanging midair.
Opening with the joyful rocker, “Give Paris One More Chance,” a talkative Richman began a nightlong tendency of quirky interludes within songs (many of which were new tunes), explaining during the opener how he warmed to romantic notions of Paris after overhearing some French kids singing Bee Gees songs.
Richman used humorous voices often, shook his booty a couple times to his Spanish flamenco rhythms, and kept the crowd tittering between relationship ballads and odes to Harpo Marx and Vincent van Gogh. Also included were favorites like “Nineteen in Naples,” a sweetly soulful “Springtime in New York,” a new tune about being 2 years old and smelling bus fumes (hmmmm) and the perennial crowd pleaser, “I was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar,” which always gets the room on its feet.
Before the encore, Richman also talked a little politics (the first time I’ve heard him do this at Duffy’s). He mentioned that he liked living in America but was bothered lately by the government’s being “the world’s bully,” then shifted to his feelings about reliance on the automobile and how he longed to be able to walk between places, which drew surefire applause from the crowd. He then performed a lovely and moving new ballad, “Origin of Love,” part of a tribute compilation for the Hedwig and the Angry Inch film—stealing side glances to his beaming wife throughout the song.
Richman is notorious for shunning interviews, so I was surprised to get an audience with him after the show. Both he and Larkins told me they were getting lots of movie scores lately, thanks to their work on the comedy blockbuster There’s Something About Mary (including an up-and-coming film called Tommy and Rocket), and that they were about to leave to tour Europe again. Richman added that the duo never prepared set lists but just improvised live and that he was glad he could keep prices low for his shows, since “they’re supposed to be fun for everyone … so the kids in the park can come.”
I concluded fairly quickly that I should just let Richman’s lovable, often poetic songs of relationships and nostalgic reveries speak for themselves. And he seemed happy with that.